The Midwinter Horn

By W. Rinsma

In the old territory of Twente, in the eastern part of Holland, here and there people still observe the ancient custom of blowing the midwinter horn every evening for a period lasting from the eve of Advent through Epiphany, the coming of the Three Wise Men from the East on January 6. Usually the horn -- one meter in length -- is placed over a deep well so the sound will reverberate far into the surroundings, relayed in this way from one outlying farm to another. In the olden days the idea was held that the sound would chase away the evil spirits that might bring disaster to man and beast. Long ago the Anglo-Saxons thought that in the dark days of the year, time stood still; and fearing that the life-bringing sun might be forever banished by the forces of darkness, they too protected themselves by blowing the midwinter horn. This tradition dates back to Pagan times, and with Christianization gained a second meaning: the glad tidings are proclaimed that "Christ is born," or, as one says in the dialect of this district: "He komp, de dag komp neuger bij" (He is coming, the day is coming closer).

If there were no hidden meaning behind the observance of this beautiful custom, one could speak of a meaningless superstition. However, it has a true and profound content, partly connected with man's well-being and his protection against harm, but more particularly with the birth of the life-giving and 'unconquered' sun. We know that the Mysteries of antiquity were celebrated at different times of the year. The most important celebration began around the December solstice when the sun reached its southernmost point and started its return to the north. During these sacred seasons people of high spiritual stature, achieved by their own effort and sacrifice, chose to undergo certain initiatory trials with the purpose of attaining oneness with their inner divinity. If the candidate, with the aid of previous training, was successful, on Epiphany came the supreme moment when he was brought face to face with his inner god, and he was suddenly flooded with light shining from within, a light that radiated like the sun.

On that day Christ was born, as the early Christians expressed it, while the Greeks and Romans, from whom the Christians had derived their expression, spoke of the mystical Apollo, the birth of the sun-god within the man thus exalted. A Buddha or Enlightened One has been born, as it is said in the Orient.

It seems to me that we are compelled to ask ourselves: how is it that a custom as old as the midwinter blowing still survives as a symbol into our time. A symbol of what? Could it be that the ancient Mysteries are actually inborn in the heart of each man and, if he aspires toward it, that this inner, divine urge manifests in his life? Could it also be that man can ever anew experience this, in his own way and depending on what he is; and that he is then suddenly 'touched' inwardly, and the soul 'remembers' with hope and maybe with deep joy, particularly during the holy season of the winter solstice?

If so, this tradition in its core is indeed seeded in undying universal Truth, which carries the Mysteries of all time on the spiritual winds of destiny, sustained by the very deepest essence of what is stored in the heart of every man and waiting for liberation.

(From Sunrise magazine, December 1973; copyright © 1973 Theosophical University Press) 


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